The developmental nature of children's ability to use varying diameter writing instruments

Parker, Tom Solomon, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Abidin, Richard R., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Brandt, Richard, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Mesinger, John, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Short, Jerry, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Westhead, Eleanor C., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

All normal children entering school must learn to write. Various systems and instruments have been designed to ease this process. One such instrument is the beginner's pencil. It is of large diameter (13/32 inches) and is widely used in kindergartens and first grades. Objective evidence to support its use is lacking. When large pencils appeared for beginners' use, about 1920, so did wide ruled paper. A question exists regarding the connection between pencil and drawing size. Children's preference for pencil size is uncertain, since free choice seldom operates. The coincidence of efficacy and choice has rarely been examined.

The writing act is generally considered as consisting of two principal movements. The first is the movement about the page controlled by the larger arm muscles. Second, is letter formation which is controlled by the smaller finger muscles. Free drawing and handwriting both involve both of these movements. Muscle control of handwriting is considered developmental in nature and to follow a cephalocaudal sequence and proximodistal direction.

Study objectives were to determine the effects of pencil size, age, and sex on the ability of children to perform the selected tests; to examine the connection between pencil size and free drawing size; and, finally, to scrutinize free size choice. This study furthered these objectives by use of three tests. Arm muscle control was tested using Frostig-type materials. Finger control was examined using developmental items selected by Goodnow. Free drawing was tested using the D-A-P. Preference was a teacher-recorded survey of pencil usage under free choice conditions.

Sample consisted of twenty boys and twenty girls on each of three levels: nursery school, kindergarten, and first grade. Separate preference test used a kindergarten class of 11 boys and 12 girls. All children were from the Arlington County, Virginia public schools.

Schools and classes for the study were randomly selected. Classes selected were tested in their own classroom, in their entirety, and random sample drawn from those tested.

A Lindquist Type III repeated measures design, with Factor A being the three pencil sizes, was used to analyze the results of the Goodnow and Frostig testing. The connection between pencil size and free drawing length was tested by having each child make drawing using each pencil size; the results were then analyzed using the difference between correlated means as a measure.

Preference test was analyzed using Chi-square and results of the other testing.

Analysis of results revealed significant differences at .001 level with regard to age on the Goodnow and Frostig-type units. There were no significant differences among the means of treatments, on either test, nor with regard to sex or the interaction effects of sex and age. There was a significant difference (p < .02) on length of drawing between the medium size pencil and both the large and small pencils at nursery school level. Boys significantly favored the large pencil and girls the small on the preference test.

Results do not indicate that the beginners' pencil affords any advantage over the commonly used (10/32) pencil. It is recommended that its use be terminated. The tendency to make larger drawings when using both large and small pencils has interesting implications for psychological interpretations of children's drawings. Children's choice of pencil size has little connection with their ability to use that instrument.

Viewed as a whole, the results support handwriting as developmentally connected with strong indications of the element of maturational readiness for these tasks. The introduction of writing training in kindergarten is indicated. Its introduction below that level appears to be of marginal efficacy.

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EDD (Doctor of Education)
Children -- Writing
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